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Germany wants ‘black boxes’ in self-drive capable cars

POSTED BY Nigel Andretti ON 20 July 2016

GERMANY plans new legislation to require manufacturers of cars equipped with an autopilot function to install a black box to help determine responsibility in the event of an accident, transport ministry sources told Reuters on Monday.

The fatal crash of a Tesla Motors Inc Model S car in its Autopilot mode has increased the pressure on industry executives and regulators to ensure that automated driving technology can be deployed safely.

Under the proposal from Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt, drivers will not have to pay attention to traffic or concentrate on steering, but must remain seated at the wheel so they can intervene in the event of an emergency.

Manufacturers will also be required to install a black box that records when the autopilot system was active, when the driver drove and when the system requested that the driver take over, according to the proposals.

The draft is due to be sent to other ministries for approval this summer, a transport ministry spokesman said.

Germany is home to some of the world’s largest car companies including Volkswagen, Daimler and BMW and the government wants the industry to become a global player in the market for self-driving vehicles.

Companies around the globe are working on prototypes for self-driving vehicles, but such cars are not expected to be available for the mass market before 2020.

Under the draft laws, vehicles that steer and accelerate the vehicle by technical means “for a specified period of time and specified situations”, and which are capable of “instructing the driver” to take over control again can be registered for road use.

Accordingly, drivers will be able to fully transfer their control to automated systems for any given time, until the system demands the driver to resume control. That is a significant step beyond the current law, which requires the driver to monitor traffic events at all times when using partially automated driving systems.

Drivers will be allowed to turn away from traffic events and from the direct control while the vehicle is in the auto-pilot mode. However, the driver must be able to take the steer at any time, if and when the automated system alerts and demands this to happen.

This means drivers will not be able to rely “blindfold” on the driving system, but must remain ready to intervene. In other words, the driver may read, write or watch TV to a certain extent, but having a nap will remain prohibited.

The proposed new law will shift the existing liability in case of an accident: Until now, the driver’s inattention at any given point in time triggers his liability; in the future, during the auto-pilot mode, the driver’s possible liability will focus on failing to react to the “wake-up signal”.